A silver bullet for budget formulation
- By Scott Thesing
- May 24, 2018
With the gap between legacy systems and modern technology growing wider by the day, the Trump administration is attempting to close the gap by making modernization a focal point for our federal government.
By specifically stating in the recent President's Management Agenda (PMA), that a key focus for the administration is "modernizing the Federal Government in key areas that will improve the ability of agencies to deliver mission outcomes…," and stating in the 2019 budget proposal that they anticipate IT modernization to be a "key driver of reform," we are perfectly equipped to begin a major overhaul of legacy systems and processes.
Now that the green light has been given, where do we begin?
One area that agencies can modernize in the short term is budget formulation. Spreadsheets, typically created in Microsoft Excel, are still being used to balance and develop billion-dollar budgets. The evolution of spreadsheets has not gone far enough to offer the complex, real-time capabilities that agencies need to form a complete budget.
Using spreadsheets in the 21st century calls accuracy into question, as manual interpretation can be unreliable and drains time, energy and resources from financial staff within agencies.
To combat this, as agencies continue pushing forward with modernization projects, they should improve their budget formulation processes with automation to free up time and ensure accuracy with the tax dollars of U.S. citizens.
Identify the Flaws in Legacy Systems
Spreadsheets were able to accomplish a lot in their day, but the modern agency budget process demands more complex tasks, such as the analyzing and categorizing of budget data points. Without tools that can take on these tasks, there are more likely to be errors that will cost the government valuable time and money.
In addition, Excel only allows users to view their information in numerous isolated data streams, making inconsistencies more probable. This drives the need for data to be continuously reconciled before reaching an accurate assessment of a budget. With so much emphasis on getting the numbers right, agencies lose sight of the analytics and program results that could be beneficial. Even worse, it takes more effort to keep them up-to-date than should be necessary.
Data Analysis is Fundamental for Budget Reports
Budget data analysis can be complicated, but it is compulsory for reporting. Data entry requirements have become more intricate, so without the tools necessary for accurate budget formulation, overall analysis becomes exceptionally difficult.
According to the administration's 2019 budget proposal, one objective is to address IT investments that would "allow the workforce to be more agile and resourceful." Modernized budget formulation systems can quickly achieve this goal by eliminating tedious tasks and minimizing heavy workloads. The majority of data entry could be done by a tool, supplying workers with better understanding of their data.
After implementing an automated budget formulation system, federal employees can use the time gained to pinpoint areas where budgets could be rebalanced and re-allocated in a different manner for projects or programs that would aid in meeting mission goals. By unleashing the full power of automation to analyze data, federal employees could make a widespread difference in how funds are allocated to meet mission goals.
Automation, Automation, Automation
The PMA explicitly calling for reducing "burden through tools like integrated IT and automation software," which this isn't something agencies can ignore any longer.
In order for budget formulation processes to generate data, it is essential for them to have business intelligence, analytics, and scenario modeling tools while also incorporating performance management, accountability, strategic planning, and financial management. A simple spreadsheet does not possess these capabilities -- an automated budget formulation tool does. What would take hours or even days to complete can now be accomplished in just minutes thanks to automation.
With the technology-focused goals of the current Administration, along with the Technology Modernization Fund Board beginning to dole out funds to carry out modernization projects, the time is now for agencies to overhaul and reimagine the systems and processes currently in place.
When it comes to budget formulation, automation is the silver bullet you've been looking for.
Scott Thesing is director of budget solutions at KeyLogic Systems.